'Tis the season for retail scams--and the App Store seems to be full of them.

Hundreds of fake retail apps--which, at first glance, look like they come from well-known brands--are popping up in Apple's App Store. A search for apps by big brands like Dillard's, Nordstrom, Zappos.com, and Jimmy Choo will turn up copycats with slightly different names. The risks of downloading the apps vary--some of them are just a platform for popup ads, others could compromise credit card information and lock you out of your phone.

So how to spot a scam? The names of these counterfeit apps are often misspelled or slightly off-brand. An app imitating Foot Locker, for instance, is called "Footlocke Sports Co., Ltd." Overstock.com also has a copycat: "Overstock. Inc." Another bad sign is the absence of user reviews, or a history of previous versions.

Look closely at search results in the App Store before you download anything--the first results aren't necessarily the most legitimate because some fake apps have employed Apple's paid search ads to boost their position. Brands without an iPhone app, like Dollar Tree and Dillard's, are particularly vulnerable because the only result of your search may be a counterfeit.

Many of these apps seem to be coming from China. A report from the New York Times tracked down a company named Cloaker Apps, which it says is responsible for developing many of them. Jack Lin, who says he heads up the business, told the Times that his company does develop apps, but doesn't check out his clients' legitimacy. Another bad sign? Cloaker's website says it is located at an address in Menlo Park, California--right in the middle of Facebook's campus.

Published on: Nov 7, 2016